[StriderMTB’s lengthy article, “The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s ‘Two-Wills’ View,” has been divided into 30 parts and edited for serial publication on this website. Here is a link to the original post. After the entire series is published, it will be made available as a single article on this site. Critique 33 is included in this post.]
Critique 33: THE ALLEGED BALANCED VIEW OF STEPHEN CHARNOCK: ANOTHER DEAD END FOR PIPER
Given his apparent fascination with Edward’s vacuous and discordant explanations to absolve God of moral wrongdoing, it seems rather obvious to me that Piper has already pulled the wool over his own eyes, and it doesn’t appear to be coming off anytime soon. But we still need to examine further how he tries to pull the wool over the eyes of others. In addition to Edwards, Piper calls on the musings of Stephen Charnock to deliver some closing remarks. Regrettably the level of intellectual word-play and empty rhetoric is just as breathtaking in its eloquence as is Edwards’ musings. Piper begins with the following endorsement of Charnock:
“I find the effort of Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), a chaplain to Henry Cromwell and non-conformist pastor in London, to be balanced and helpful in holding the diverse Scriptures on God’s will together.
“God doth not will [sin] directly, and by an efficacious will. He doth not directly will it, because he hath prohibited it by his law, which is a discovery of his will; so that if he should directly will sin, and directly prohibit it, he would will good and evil in the same manner, and there would be contradictions in God’s will: to will sin absolutely, is to work it (Psalm 115:3): “God hath done whatsoever he pleased.” God cannot absolutely will it, because he cannot work it. God wills good by a positive decree, because he hath decreed to effect it. He wills evil by a private decree, because he hath decreed not to give that grace which would certainly prevent it. God doth not will sin simply, for that were to approve it, but he wills it, in order to that good his wisdom will bring forth from it. He wills not sin for itself, but for the event.”
In saying, “God doth not will [sin] directly” Charnock doesn’t deny God willingly determined all sin. He simply denies that means there exists a direct link between sin and God. Does he succeed? As with Edwards, let’s strip out the oratory and see what is left:
(1) Charnock concedes that if God were to will the sin of X directly, it would be to invite a contradiction in the will of God. For if the sin of X were to be prohibited by God’s moral law and nature, and yet God directly wills it anyway, Charnock holds God would be an approver of the sin he prohibits and therefore be self-contradictory.
(2) As such Charnock attempts to get God “off the hook” of approving what he decrees by suggesting God wills good things by positive decree and wills sin and evil by private decree. Charnock doesn’t bother elucidating the “guilt acquitting” distinctive differences between God’s private decree and his positive decree– accept to say that God’s private decree is simply a withholding of grace so that sin will come about. How ingenious of Charnock. But what sin? That is the question. Positively speaking it is obviously the sin God directly conceived and determined. Charnock’s explanation is only another smokescreen to cloister God behind inventive words. Calvinists insist all of God’s decrees are unconditional and none of God’s decrees can be resisted by human will. Consequently, in the end, all our decisions are directly linked to God’s decree. Therefore for Charnock to say “God doesn’t will sin directly” because he only wills it by “private decree” is, just like Edwards, a product of an imagination running wild and free— totally unharnessed from deductive reasoning. And just like Edwards, Charnock’s view is also equal to saying a husband who conceived of, planned for and determined that an assassin ought to kill his wife can avoid culpability of causation because he wasn’t the one who directly pulled the trigger. Even Piper would have to concede such an earthly scheme to avoid culpability is rubbish, yet he wants us to think that it makes sense when it comes to God— who the Scriptures refer to as the locus of all good and who can “tempt no man to evil” (James 1:13).
(3) Moreover like Edwards, Charnock tries to limit God’s interaction with sin as God doing nothing more than willing to not offer grace to prevent sin from occurring. But that is decidedly not the issue. Charnock completely leaves out the fact that God has conceptually and deterministically authored every choice we make. The Calvinist view is not one in which there exists a range of possible choices, both good and evil, and every time God withdraws his grace we are consequently are left with only a multitude of sinful choices. Not in the least is that the full view of Calvinist thought. In a Calvinist world there exists only one determined choice and one determined outcome that will and must occur— the one God determinatively decreed. In other words, God’s decree constrains all possible, sinful choices down to one choice— the one decreed— and thus God’s decretive will renders null and void all other alleged possibilities. In a Calvinistic world we are not even free as to what sins we will commit. All our sins have been specifically and directly chosen for us via the agency and authorship of sovereign determination. There is no getting around the fact that in Piper’s Two-Wills View of God: 1) we have no ultimate control over what we think, and 2) God is the decisive author and initial causal agent behind every one of our acts of sin.
If God’s righteous character and glory is to be rescued from the nefarious implications of Calvinist theology we must be more vigilant in calling Calvinists out on their inexcusable attempts to conceal God’s decree of all debauchery behind half truths and lofty verbiage. Unfortunate as it may be, it is obvious that Charnock, just like Edwards, is unable or unwilling to unfurl and disclose the full banner of Calvinistic logic. And as with Edwards, Piper seems strangely enamored by Charnock’s ability to articulate utter nonsense.
If accused persons could vindicate themselves in court simply by refashioning words, assigning special definitions to their actions and construing meaning to suit their private interpretations, the world would be a much different place. Justice would be lost, truth would be victimized and the world would collapse into moral absurdity. Charnock’s and Piper’s attempts to exonerate God of moral culpability for unconditionally determining all sin and evil doesn’t convince the jury.